Concussion debate
Concussion issues dismissed as 'media sensationalism and hysteria'
ESPN Staff
June 19, 2014
Kieran Read, sidelined with concussion, takes a stool during training, Auckland, New Zealand, June 3, 2014
Kieran Read, sidelined with concussion during the series against England, takes a stool during training © Getty Images
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As rugby - along with other contact sports - struggles with the problems associated with concussion, a US-based neuropsychologist has given an interview to Planet Rugby in which he has dismissed what he described as "the concussion crisis" as hysteria and media sensationalism.

Dr Jim Andrikopoulos, who practises in the USA, was reported in the article to have "systematically torn to shreds the research undertaken at Boston University's Centre for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, where the brains of ex-rugby players have been examined in conjunction with scores of NFL footballers and diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)".

Differing views

  • Scientists and doctors rarely agree. For every argument you can find someone who honestly and earnestly holds a completely opposite view.

    Andrikopoulos' comments clearly swim against the tide of current medical opinion and are likely to cause upset and anger. But because he is in a minority does not mean he is therefore wrong any more than being an experienced neuropsychologist means he is right.

    What is needed is some more background on Andrikopoulos. Medical experts are often well rewarded to testify in legal cases where the cost of losing can run into tens or hundreds of millions. Andrikopoulos has a record of acting for employers and insurance companies, and one finding in 2009, available on the web, says this work is "considered predictable and has long been considered less convincing" adding "it is concluded that the opinion of Dr. Andrikopoulos lacks sufficient foundation for serious consideration".

    Again, that is only one report and does not mean Andrikopoulos' comments are without substance. But they are one man's view and one man's view only. And would you want to risk serious damage because of one man's view?

    What is clear is that until we know more, those running and involved in the sport are duty-bound to err on the side of caution.

He also attacked comments made by some close to rugby and went as far as saying Second Impact Syndrome - which was the finding of the inquest into the death of Northern Irish schoolboy Ben Robinson - did not exist.

As if that was not controversial enough, Andrikopoulos went on to say that families of affected former NFL players taking legal action in the USA were guilty of extortion.

He said that it was not possible to suffer from CTE as a result of playing rugby. "CTE as defined by Boston is an illusion; the literature bears that out," he said. "They made up a disease that they're telling us can only be diagnosed post-mortem. There is no precedent for that in the history of clinical neurology. They have to go backwards, go to the parents, the kids, or the spouse to collect the symptoms.

"CTE is a disease you can see and hear in living people, in the form of Parkinson's-like symptoms and speech problems. There's the famous case of (ex-NFL athlete) Tom McHale. His wife, Lisa, is now a representative at Boston. He happened to overdose on drugs: he was a coke user, a drug addict. He played football, Boston got his brain and they said, 'you know what, he's got CTE'.

"And the modus operandi here for selling CTE is to do it in the media: if it bleeds, it reads. The American public is in complete hysteria over this. Enough is enough. Stop telling mothers, families, sons, daughters, stop holding these family meetings and telling people this. It's offensive."

Andrikopoulos dismissed the Boston University study of "poor science, non-science and scaremongering" which frightens parents away from letting their children play sport.

"CTE does not exist, and Second Impact Syndrome is controversial; it's not the result of a second impact. I would not worry about concussion because it's transient, and kids should play, enjoy themselves and not be worried."

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